An expenses scandal has broken out in the normally staid region of South Tyrol in northern Italy – after a female politician was accused of using taxpayers’ money to pay for a vibrator and other sex toys.
Ulli Mair, 39, a member of the centre-Right Freiheitlichen party in the German-speaking, autonomous region on the border with Austria, is suspected of buying the €65 items and then trying to claim them back as legitimate expenses.
She said the items were bought as a joke birthday present for a friend and denied that she had tried to claim back the cost of them from public funds.
They were purchased in May 2012 from a sex shop in Bolzano, the capital of the South Tyrol region, which retains a strong Germanic identity. The region, annexed to Italy after the First World War from Austria, has traditionally looked down its nose at the rest of Italy – particularly the south, which it regards as a hotbed of corruption.
Politicians across the country have been caught out claiming for items for their personal use, stoking anger among ordinary Italians.
One of the most ludicrous claims was for a pair of green underpants, bought on a visit to the United States by Roberto Cota, a senior politician from the Right-wing, secessionist Northern League.
The claim caused amusement in Italy because green is the official colour of the League, which has in the past campaigned for northern Italy to secede from the rest of the country.
In Rome, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s party was castigated for buying a brand new four-wheel-drive vehicle after the capital was hit by a highly unusual snowstorm. He claimed he needed the vehicle to get around the city, even though the snow lasted less than 48 hours.
According to a report released in December, corrupt officials cost Italian taxpayers €2 billion in 2013.
Politicians at national, regional and provincial level were accused of claiming state money for a range of fripperies such as truffle tastings, Tiffany jewellery and even lap dances.
In Calabria, politicians claimed for lottery scratch cards while in Campania a male politician put in for hair dye – despite the fact that he was nearly bald.